Trump impeachment team squeezed by overhaul on eve of trial

Arguments are scheduled to start next week in the Senate trial over whether Trump incited the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol

Former US president Donald Trump’s last-minute rebuilding of his impeachment defence team leaves little time to prepare for arguments that are scheduled to start next week in the Senate trial over whether he incited the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.

Mr Trump announced on Sunday that attorneys David Schoen and Bruce L Castor Jr will head his defence, after his previous lawyers led by Butch Bowers of South Carolina withdrew. Mr Trump’s initial response to the impeachment charge is due on Tuesday and the trial is set to start February 9.

Mr Bowers and the other attorneys representing Mr Trump parted ways after the former president wanted the lawyers to argue that the November 3 election was stolen – an argument he’s already lost in court cases – rather than focus on the constitutionality of trying a president who has left office, CNN reported on Saturday, without naming its sources.

Mr Schoen has already been working with Mr Trump and other advisers to prepare for the trial, and both Mr Schoen and Mr Castor agree that the impeachment is unconstitutional, Mr Trump said in the release.

Former White House lawyers Pat Cipollone and Eric Herschmann are still in touch with Mr Trump but won’t be taking an official role in his defence, said two people familiar with the matter.

Losing his former legal team at this point may be tricky for Mr Trump, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana Cassidy said on Fox News.

“I always thought the president had insufficient time to come up with a rebuttal,” he said. “This makes it perhaps even more insufficient.”

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University professor who spoke on a Republican caucus call last week before most senators voted against trying a president out of office, said it was reasonable for Mr Trump to seek a trial delay to give new attorneys time to prepare if he wants it.

But it is not clear that Democrats would agree to such a request. Senate Democrats already pushed the start of the trial back two weeks to allow President Joe Biden some time to install his cabinet.

Harvard University law professor Laurence Tribe said such a move would essentially allow Mr Trump to “run out the clock” by retaining new lawyers.

“No competent judge would let a defendant play this kind of endless game and essentially give the defendant control over the timing of the proceeding,” said Mr Tribe, a Trump critic.

The House impeached Mr Trump on one charge of incitement of insurrection after he encouraged supporters who went on to riot at the US Capitol on January 6 in an effort to stop the counting of Electoral College votes for Mr Biden. Five people died in the mayhem, including one police officer.

Democrats were joined by 10 Republicans, including No 3 House Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming, in supporting impeachment.

Mr Trump’s allies have said that a president who is no longer in office can’t be impeached, and 45 Republican senators voted last week for a measure to declare the attempt unconstitutional – suggesting it’s unlikely that at least 17 would vote to convict.

Mr Schoen previously represented Mr Trump's adviser Roger Stone and victims of terrorism under the Antiterrorism Act, according to the former president’s office.

Mr Schoen practices across the US, focusing on civil rights litigation in Alabama and federal criminal defence work, including white-collar cases in New York, the release said. Mr Schoen has appeared on Fox News, including to discuss the case of accused child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.

Mr Castor was district attorney of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, from 2000 to 2008 and later twice elected Montgomery County commissioner, the release said. Mr Castor also served as solicitor general and acting attorney general of Pennsylvania.

Updated: February 1, 2021 10:38 PM

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